Laser beam to detect volcanic ash over Isles

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A laser to detect Volcanic Ash could be sited on Lewis as part of a Met Office plan for a national network of sensors across the UK.

The Met Office are proposing the installation of Lidar active laser remote sensing equipment at their Druim A Starraig Radar in Upper Bayble as part of plans to improve the warning system for Civil Aviation and defence.

The proposal is part of a national project for nine sites across the UK to monitor and predict volcanic ash and is in response to the massive travel disruption in 2010 when Icelandic volcanoes shut down air travel for several days across Europe.

The Met Office planning notes state: “The Met Office proposes the placement of a Lidar for the purpose of detecting Volcanic ash. The Lidar consists of the laser, transmitter and all other associated equipment and infrastructure.”

It continues: “The Lidar will be located in the centre of a 3.5m by 2.5m enclosure with 2m high anti climb fencing erected around the boundary. The Met office propose to ensure the safety for those entering the enclosure via secure registered key locks to prevent unauthorised access and isolation switches to power down the laser on entry.”

The proposed Lidar network responds to the original UK Government’s Volcanic Ash Observations Review Group recommendations by offering an operationally resilient network, building on technology which will complement and add value to other observational resources available to the Met Office.

The fixed network of ground-based Lidars will provide the Met Office with the ability to monitor the atmosphere from a number of locations across the UK and the ability to observe the vertical extent of aerosol in the atmosphere in cloud free conditions. The direction and speed which the volcanic ash travels is largely dependent on the wind during and after the eruption which is why the Met Office wish to have coverage throughout the UK.

As part of the national project the Met office has engaged with Public Health England early on to complete a risk assessment as the Lidar will incorporate a class 4 laser. Recommendations have been made and the Met Office is seeking to adopt these as part of the installation.

The Met Office have also consulted with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on this issue. The Lidar enclosure at Bayble will be adjacent to the existing radar.